Russia’s war in Ukraine divides the G20

Sergei Lavrov G20

The most interesting meeting of the G20 lasted less than ten minutes and was held on the fly in a corridor of the conference center. No one knows exactly what US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said to each other, as they prudently stayed away from cameras and microphones.  

A Blinken employee recounted that the Secretary of State had made it clear to the Russian representative that the US would support Ukraine for as long as necessary. Furthermore, in his first face-to-face meeting since the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Anthony Blinken urged Sergei Lavrov not to suspend the New START nuclear arms limitation treaty. Lavrov, for his part, did not mention the brief meeting with Blinken in his press conference at the end of the meeting of foreign ministers of the 19 most important emerging and industrialized countries and the European Union.

Lavrov spoke earlier in plenary, during the G20 working session, calling the Western criticism “hypocritical.” The Russian foreign minister portrayed his country as a victim and called for the lifting of the Western world’s sanctions on Russia, which he called illegal.  

Baerbock demands an end to the war

Unlike the 2022 G20 meeting in Bali, Indonesia, where Lavrov walked out of the room when criticism of Russia began, the Russian foreign minister remained seated while the other ministers spoke. 

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock appealed directly to the chancellor: “Mr. Lavrov, stop this war! Stop violating our international order! Stop the bombing of Ukrainian cities and civilians!” Lavrov listened to these words impassively, while the German Foreign Minister continued: “The path to peace is very clear: if Russia withdraws troops from it today, there will be no more war.” 

Without a joint statement

Russia and China did not agree to a final joint G20 statement condemning the war against Ukraine. The truth is that Sergei Lavrov is not completely isolated within the G20. He met with the Chinese foreign minister as well as the Indian host and other ministers for bilateral talks. India, South Africa and Brazil are calling for the war in Europe, which they see as a simple “Ukrainian crisis”, not to be allowed to completely block the work of the G20. 

The Indian presidency actually wanted to deal with global food supply, poverty reduction, supply chains and climate protection. G20 expert at the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP), Claudia Schmucker, is not surprised that the group cannot agree on joint statements. “It was to be expected in the current geopolitical context,” Schmucker tells DW.